Honda… back in the F1 Winner’s Circle!
Jenson Button is no longer one of the best drivers to never win a Formula One event. After 113 races at racing’s highest level without a single win… the questions and doubts were mounting throughout the Formula One universe. “Was Button just another F1 playboy who’d never live up to his hype?” Last Saturday… he answered his detractors with resounding authority!
Team Honda invested a tremendous amount of money earlier this year when they bought out Button’s new contract with Williams to keep him a part of the organization while upgrading their other ride by enticing Rubens Barrichello to give up his cushy, but relatively thankless job of being Michael Schumacher’s beyatch at Ferrari. The investment is finally paying dividends with Button taking the checker last week at Hungaroring and Barrichello also among the top four finishers.
“I didn’t want the race to end,” Button said. “It was the best feeling, knowing that you’re on the way home to winning your first Grand Prix. Those last 10 laps when I was leading, I had a 40-second lead, were the best laps of my career.” He reflected on his racing career: “It’s been a tough few years and my time at Honda has been fantastic, but we’ve had some low times and this is the best time of my career.”
For a while, it looked like this day would never come for Button or Honda. The once dominant Honda team had fallen on hard times. With the early years of the decade dominated by Ferrari (In 2004, they won 15 of the 17 races) and 2005 showing the emergence of the Renault team, Honda had lost their competitive edge. Plagued by engine problems last year, (and a severe two race suspension for an illegal fuel cell) team Honda spent a dismal season near the bottom of the constructor’s championship.
2006 was to be the year Honda turned things around. By replacing the underachieving Takuma Sato with Barrichello and spending the millions necessary to keep Button on board, Honda was confident that their new motor would not suffer the same reliability problems of the 2005 edition.
The year started well: Button was fourth and third in the first two races and won the pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in March. Then it turned bad… engine trouble caused Button to finish tenth at Australia, and then a series of more bad luck and mechanical problems continued to plague team Honda. For the next few months, other than a 6th place finish in Spain, Button was unable to crack the top ten in any other race. Barrichello didn’t fare much better. A fifth place finish in the European Grand Prix, together with a 4th at Monaco, a sixth at Indianapolis, and a seventh in Spain were the best he could muster. When both cars were unable to finish the race in France at Circuit de Nevers Magny Cours, things looked bleak.
The next race was the German Grand Prix on July 30th. Barrichello left the race with engine problems, but Button turned in a very nice ride finishing back in the top five. (4th) Both drivers came into Hungary with high hopes.
To this point of the season, either Ferrari or Renault had won every single race, but today would be Honda’s day. Fernando Alonso took the poll in his Renault, but mechanical problems took both he and his teammate, Giancarlo Fisichella out of contention. The Ferraris would finish, but never really contend. Button had qualified well, in fourth position, but engine problems necessitated a change which dropped him all the way back into 14th at the start.
“To come from 14th and win the race here in these conditions is the perfect way to win your first race,” Button said.
Barrichello didn’t let Button have all the fun, and he too drove an excellent race, finishing fourth, and moving Honda into 4th place in the constructor’s championship with McLaren-Mercedes now firmly in their sights!
The next race is August 27th in Turkey. We sincerely hope that this is the beginning of Honda;s return to the winner’s circle.